Abusive Behavior in the Workplace

Working for a boss who constantly berates you can be hazardous to your health.
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Your boss tells you you’re stupid, yells at you and belittles you in front of your peers. Although this sort of behavior is abusive, in some organizations it is condoned because the hard-driving, tough boss may help the organization meet its economic goals. A high-performing but abusive boss may even be rewarded if his team achieves its targets, has received performance rewards or has demonstrably contributed to the productivity of the business.

Legal Aspects

    Unfortunately, there is no legal protection against bullying and abusive behavior in the workplace unless it specifically targets protected characteristics such as race, gender or ethnic origin. Your boss can call you names, tear up your report and demand you write another one before you go home for the night or make you work overtime when you would rather not. However, if he denies you a promotion because you are female or demands that you provide sexual favors to keep your job, he has crossed the line into discrimination or sexual harassment, both of which are illegal.

Respected but Abusive

    Some people who are highly respected and brilliant may also be abusive. The late Steve Jobs, the CEO at Apple computers, was also an abusive boss, according to a Feb. 2010 article in “The Epoch Times.” Jobs was known to reduce his subordinates to tears or fire an employee during a temper tantrum. The boss may not be the only person who is abusive, although the power differential can make an abusive boss seem more threatening. Coworkers may bully you, sabotage your work or treat you like the wallflower in the high school lunch room.

Signs of Abuse

    Some of the signs of workplace abuse may be obvious, such as being yelled at or insulted, especially with others present. Others may be very subtle -- you have a good work history and your performance evaluations have all been excellent, but your new supervisor is constantly asking you to redo your work to meet his specifications. An abusive coworker may gather a group of like-minded peers and they may ignore you at meetings, whisper about you behind your back or start destructive rumors.

Health and Relationships

    Abusive behavior isn’t just disrespectful or impolite -- it can cause health problems and affect your relationships with your family. Workplace bullying can cause depression, high blood pressure, or even post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as increased turnover, according to a March 2006 article in “The Business Forum Online.” If you’re being abused at work, you may start to call in sick more frequently just to have a day’s peace. People who had abusive bosses demonstrated increased tension with their spouses and other family members, according to a December 2011 article in “The Huffington Post.”

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